November was a cold and cruel month so far north, and though Hogwarts was a mostly warm, comfortable castle, the biting breeze still swept in through small cracks in the stone. It chilled Seamus’ bones where he sat on a sink in the boys’ lavatory, his legs dangling a few inches off the ground. His sandy hair was caked with a layer of dust, his face covered in soot, and his eyebrows appeared to be smoking.
"'Thtupid," Seamus mumbled, "I'm 'tho ‘thtupid, I can't believe I - ACHOO!" he sneezed, more from the soot than the cold, enveloping himself in a cloud of dust. When it cleared, he rubbed his nose in annoyance. Dean Thomas, who was stood at the sink next to him, running a cloth under the stream of water, looked over and smiled. "Bless you. "
"'Fanks," Seamus sniffed, "I 'justht wanted to make Pudding a bit bigger; she keepths’ getting stood on." As if on cue, Seamus' tiny cat jumped into his lap and gave a minute meow. Despite being a very small cat, Pudding was also extremely protective. She would follow him everywhere, padding along at his heels and meowing indignantly at anyone who came near him, intent on her mission to guard her little wizard. The cat had gone so far as to follow him into classes, much to Seamus’ embarrassment, and Professor McGonagall’s displeasure.
The problem was, Pudding was uncommonly small, and now had several sore paws, a bandaged tail and a crooked left ear to show for her encounters with students’ feet.
Seamus, sick of his poor cat getting hurt, had looked up the technique for an Engorgement Charm. Being a first year student, he didn’t have nearly enough skill to cast this spell, but he had tried anyway. The result had been a sooty explosion to the face and a couple of singed eyebrows (again). Pudding, thankfully, had escaped unharmed, but she hadn’t gotten any bigger either. She looked the same as always; salt and pepper fur, a bushy tail, and big brown eyes. She was no bigger than a crystal ball.
“I didn’t mean to, it justht’ happened.” Seamus stroked Pudding’s head, making her purr.
“I don’t think anyone ever means to blow something up, except maybe the Weasley twins.” Dean said, smiling. Seamus was grateful to him. When the spell had (literally) backfired, the Gryffindors in the common room had sniggered behind their hands, watching the smoke curl up from Seamus’ light hair. A lump had risen in the boy’s throat, and he had found himself wishing to sink through the floor in humiliation.
But Dean... kind, supportive Dean didn’t laugh, or even smile. Seeing the mortification on his friend’s face, he had heaved him up from the table, bundled Pudding into his arms and pulled them both out of the portrait hole, away from the laughter.
Now, as they hid away in the boys’ bathroom, Seamus still looked miserable, so Dean bumped his arm with his own and said, “It was a hard spell. It could happen to anyone.”
“But it didn’t! It happened to me!” Seamus exclaimed violently, knocking Pudding off his lap, who meowed angrily and padded away. Then his shoulders slumped and he mumbled with much less force, “I’m a terrible wizthard’.”
“Don’t say that.” Dean said forcefully. Then he softened, “You’re still learning, these things happen from time to time, okay?”
“Eleven.” Seamus mumbled dejectedly, staring at his dusty shoes.
Dean frowned. “You what, sorry?”
“Thith’ is the eleventh time I’ve blown summat’ up sinth’ I came to Hogwarths’.” Seamus sniffed, “I’ve been counting. These thingsth’ don’t justh’ happen from time to time. They happen all the time, and I don’t even underthtand why! I’m a useleth’ wizthard, I dethstroy everything!” He tried to blink away the tears that pricked at his eyes but he felt one slide down his face anyway, streaking the grime on his cheek. “I should justh leave Hogwarths.”
Pudding crawled out from behind a pipe and leapt back into his lap, where she nuzzled his other hand and purred sadly. Dean threw the cloth in the sink and took hold of his friend’s shoulders, crouching slightly to be at eye level with him. His brown eyes held a fire Seamus wasn’t used to.
“Don’t you dare.” He said fiercely, “Don't you dare leave! We’re supposed to stay and learn and do magic! You can’t just give up! If you leave, who’s gonna explain all the magic stuff I don’t get? Who-“ The fire suddenly left him, and his shoulders sagged.
“Who’s gonna be my friend?”
Seamus looked up at the taller boy’s sad face. He hadn’t thought about how much he might have mattered to Dean. He thought to himself abruptly that Dean relied on him, just as much as he relied on Dean. Dean, who had no prior knowledge of the wizarding world, depended on Seamus to help him make sense of everything going around him.
Perhaps realising what he had said, Dean blushed and continued. “You’re not useless. It makes me sad that you would think that about yourself. You’re really smart a-and super brave and cool. How can you be a terrible wizard if you’re all that?”
"Seamus," Dean continued, giving him a gentle shake, “Who got us ten house points for knowing how to beat off a ghoul in Defense Against the Dark Arts?”
“Me, but I only knew that ‘thtuff becauthe my cousin had a proper mean one in his cupboard onthce.”
Dean ignored him. “And who got rid of that huge spider that scared Ron and Flitwick in Charms?”
“’Thpiders aren’t really that sc-”
“And who went to the hospital wing and cheered up Neville after he broke his arm?”
“I did, but-"
“You did!” Dean grinned, “You did all those cool things. Who cares if you blow things up? Maybe one day you can put it to use! Like I said, we’re still learning. I reckon when we’re older and we leave Hogwarts, you’ll be a great wizard.”
Seamus rubbed his sleeve across his nose, smearing the dirt still caked on his face. Then he smiled slightly and looked up at Dean, “You really think I’m cool?”
Dean tossed him the wet cloth from the sink. “The coolest.”
Seamus really did smile then, a huge grin that spread across his face, bringing back the sparkle in his light eyes. He took the cloth to his face, scrubbing so hard all he did was smudge the soot even more. Dean laughed and rolled his eyes.
“You’re just making it worse! C’mere,” he took the cloth from Seamus and gently wiped the ash from his face. Seamus squirmed.
“Okay, ‘thsorry, mam.” He smirked, and Dean, now finished cleaning away the sooty mess, flicked his friend on the nose with the cloth. “Hey!”
Dean whipped the cloth out again, this time hitting Seamus in the stomach, the ankles, the ear, making him giggle. Pudding pounced at Dean, latching onto his chest and mewling, trying to protect her master. She was so small that she couldn’t do much to hurt him, but he still yelped and attempted to shake off the angry cat.
“No, Pudding – ouch! Argh, geroff!” Pudding let go and jumped lightly back to the ground, while Seamus roared with laughter.
“Hey, it’s not funny!” Dean said, but he was smiling.
“Hah, if you ‘thay ‘tho.” Seamus spluttered. Then he sobered slightly, “Thankths’, y’know, for cheering me up.”
Dean grinned happily and said, “That’s what best mates are for.”
The first time either of them had said it. Seamus liked the sound of it, the ease with which it rolled off Dean’s tongue and the way his smile grew wider as he said it. But Seamus didn’t have much time to think about it because then Dean brought on a new onslaught of flicking that left them both giggling so hard they didn’t stop for a long time.